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Decades of research destroyed at KI – a hacker attack cannot be ruled out!

Years of research, together with half a billion Swedish krona, went up in smoke when the freezers at Karolinska Institutet overheated. The breakdown has now been reported to the police.

During the Christmas holidays, the automatic replenishment of nitrogen in the freezing system at the Karolinska Institute was interrupted. As many as 16 out of 19 freezers overheated, resulting in the loss of a vast amount of biological research material, including biomaterials, cell lines and blood samples collected over decades.

“This affects 200-300 researchers and can basically destroy a research career,” Matti Sällberg, Professor of Biomedical Analysis and Dean of Karolinska Institutet South, told Swedish Television SVT.

According to KI, the vast amount of material is irreplaceable, and the loss will have far-reaching consequences, which will affect the Institutes of Medicine in particular, mainly within haematology, endocrinology and cardiology. The total value of the loss is estimated at half a billion Swedish krona.

The freezing tanks are supposed to withstand a full four days if the automatic system stops working, but as the breakdown occurred during the Christmas holidays, it was not discovered for five days. The automatic alarm that should have been triggered by a drop in temperature also failed to work.

The cause of the problem is unclear, but KI states that it cannot rule out a hacker attack. Rumours of a deliberate sabotage were dismissed, however.

“This is not an act performed by someone from Karolinska Institutet, that much we know,” says Professor Eva Hellström Lindberg, who reported the incident to the police on behalf of the entire research community, to Aftonbladet.

“The service teams of individual researchers and also a number of contracted companies are some of those involved in the chain. I believe that an investigation is required here. Errors may have been made throughout the chain, which may affect damage claims.”

Simultaneously, an accident investigation is underway to determine the underlying cause.

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